Modern art and architecture

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Schenkerian analysis meets Schoenberg Jackson Pollock, Lavender Mist (No. 1. 1950). For some reason, not everyone is able to appreciate the talent that goes into making something like this.
Thinking hardly
or hardly thinking?

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Major trains of thought
The good, the bad,
and the brain fart
Come to think of it

Modern art and architecture is considered by many conservatives, such as Roger Scruton and Tom Wolfe,Wikipedia to represent a decline in standards from 'classical' art, which usually includes much of the Romantic period in their judgment.

At first glance, these conservatives would appear to have a point. Compare the works of RenoirWikipedia or the later works of PicassoWikipedia to those of the nineteenth-century academic artists such as Jacques-Louis DavidWikipedia or Jean-Léon Gérôme,Wikipedia and a decline in both craftsmanship and simple draftsmanship would appear to be present. Compared to the carefully rendered and idealized figures of the French academicians, Picasso and Renoir seem cartoonish and sketchy. The stereotypical rejoinder of incomprehension is that 'a child could draw that',[note 1] or that Modern Art is what happens when Art Schools stop rejecting applicants.

This judgment, however, is superficial and fails to take into account the vast and complex background of why modern art is what it is (and this is speaking only in the western context, as many other cultures have long emphasized abstraction over photorealism, such as East Asian artists).


People that complain about modern art's emphasis on abstraction tend to ignore the complex influences and history that paved the way for what we see today. What has influenced the rise of modern art in "the west" includes the following:

  • Technological advancements including the invention of photography and video (which encouraged artists to observe how light works and interacts with color), paint tubes (which allowed artists to paint outdoors with oil paint and observe how light and atmosphere influence a scene), and new synthetic paint hues (which allowed varied and improved expression and emphasis of color) have vastly contributed of the move toward abstraction. Improved transportation and communication to other countries allow new ideas to influence western artists (such as Japonism's emphasis on essence of form and silhouette rather than photorealism reaching Impressionist artists). The value of scarcity of particular objects the elite possessed was threatened by the rise of these technologies, which enabled paintings to be reproduced with high accuracy and added the confidence of a purely mechanical process to portraiture; and lithography, which threatened to put near perfect copies of classic works of art on anybody's walls for pennies a print.
  • Art has become more affordable, where it can reach a wider audience and be expressed more widely rather than serve as feel-good idealized propaganda for rich patrons, while patronage and commissions by the elite have diminished or at least changed. As Clement GreenbergWikipedia realized, despite the veneer of Marxist orthodoxy on display in his famous essay on Avant-Garde and Kitsch,[1] the prestige of classical art was founded on the rarity of art objects, which enabled aristocratic patrons to control access and depiction to the unique items of beauty they owned. In this technological environment, the snob appeal of classical art was threatened.
  • Huge philosophical movements were underway as part of the consequences and awareness of socio-economic hardships including income inequality (the Realism (art movement)Wikipedia in the late 19th century showed a more realistic depiction of harsh realities of the working classes) and war (World War I and World War II in particular) that convinced artists to move away from the idealist and romanticized academic art, though not necessarily away from the recognizable subjects of this art. Scientific discoveries especially including light properties causing people to challenge and question what is "real" as well as what is "art". Hence, Impressionism, one of the foundations of modern art, has been more focused on exposing the artifice of art such as showing raw brushstrokes and paint texture as opposed to hiding them in traditional academic art (modern art developed further by emphasizing even more on color, spacing, shapes, and textures); it also emphasizes the fleeting and in-flux nature of light and color in observation rather than capturing a still image in a window as in academic art. A famous piece of work called Le Déjeuner sur l'herbeWikipedia exemplifies this move toward challenging convention such as the frame size, perspective, the then-common techniques of disguising artifice, and idealization. The Treachery of ImagesWikipedia helped push the idea that everything in art is representational and artificial. Some examples of philosophical movements are later discussed in the article, such as Dada's importance in contextualizing art and showing how we affix labels and meaning to objects. It has been argued however that two of the forerunners of impressionism, Joseph Mallord William Turner and Claude Monet, were influenced at least in part by the realism of pollution since their styles noticeably changed towards impressionistic as air pollution got worse in London and Paris respectively due to increasing coal burning from the Industrial Revolution.[2][3]

Nonetheless, despite the democratization of art, this hasn't stopped the snobby elite for inventing means to exclude. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, with the rise of artistic modernism, one solution presented itself. Rarity and abstruseness of taste could be made to substitute for rarity of art objects since that horse had already left the barn.

Non-modernist art was often full of allusions and allegories of a type eschewed by modernists.[note 2]

Subject matter and narrative — historical figures, literary figures, idealized scenery or people — were disdained. The critics thought that people liked pictorial art because it told a story. The subject matter was important to the masses. The theory held that people liked pictures and statues of George Washington and Jesus because they liked George Washington and Jesus. They looked at paintings of historical figures and traditional narratives from history or literature and liked the paintings because they brought those figures and narratives to mind. These popular approaches to popular art were arbitrarily judged (Is there anything here but pointless snark and arrogance?):

Let us see, for example, what happens when an ignorant Russian peasant … stands with hypothetical freedom of choice before two paintings, one by Picasso, the other by Repin.

In the first he sees, let us say, a play of lines, colors and spaces that represent a woman. The abstract technique ... reminds him somewhat of the icons he has left behind him in the village, and he feels the attraction of the familiar. We will even suppose that he faintly surmises some of the great art values the cultivated find in Picasso.

He turns next to Repin's picture and sees a battle scene. The technique is not so familiar — as technique. But that weighs very little with the peasant, for he suddenly discovers values in Repin's picture that seem far superior to the values he has been accustomed to find in icon art; and the unfamiliar itself is one of the sources of those values: the values of the vividly recognizable, the miraculous and the sympathetic. In Repin's picture the peasant recognizes and sees things in the way in which he recognizes and sees things outside of pictures — there is no discontinuity between art and life, no need to accept a convention and say to oneself, that icon represents Jesus because it intends to represent Jesus, even if it does not remind me very much of a man. That Repin can paint so realistically that identifications are self-evident immediately and without any effort on the part of the spectator — that is miraculous.

The peasant is also pleased by the wealth of self-evident meanings which he finds in the picture: "it tells a story." Picasso and the icons are so austere and barren in comparison. What is more, Repin heightens reality and makes it dramatic: sunset, exploding shells, running and falling men. There is no longer any question of Picasso or icons. Repin is what the peasant wants, and nothing else but Repin. It is lucky, however, for Repin that the peasant is protected from the products of American capitalism, for he would not stand a chance next to a Saturday Evening Post cover by Norman Rockwell. [note 3] "Retiring from public altogether, the avant-garde poet or artist sought to maintain the high level of his art by both narrowing and raising it to the expression of an absolute in which all relativities and contradictions would either be resolved or be beside the point. 'Art for art's sake' and 'pure poetry' appear, and subject-matter or content becomes something to be avoided like the plague."[1]

What was needed to keep out the riff-raff was to make the art obscure, hermetic, and needing a complicated education and complicated explanations before it could be fully understood. Once scarcity of art objects was threatened, rarity of taste became de rigeur. This gave rise to works of art that could not be fully appreciated without background knowledge that only a few ladies and gentlemen of leisure could be bothered to acquire. A taste for such art meant that you were the kind of person with money and leisure enough to learn to like it. By this artifice, the snob appeal of art was saved.[4]

This core belief of artistic modernity is itself problematic from the viewpoint of esthetic philosophy. You can jettison the literary, historical, and mythological references that informed classical and academic art. Understanding of these things, too, required knowledge; knowledge that was devalued by modernism. In order to keep contemporary art the bailiwick of an elite, the modernists succeeded only at replacing one kind of education needed to appreciate fine art with another. One result was an art world that was given to curious fads and phases, such as the odd concern with flatnessWikipedia that was thought quite important during much of the late 1950s and early 1960s. The heavy-handedly ironic movement of Pop ArtWikipedia flowed out of the flatness craze. Bringing back recognizable subjects, but with a nudge and a wink, the Pop artists offered depictions of objects like flags, comic strips, and soup labels that were inherently two-dimensional.


"Fontaine" by Marcel Duchamp "Piss on you, you running dog of a bourgeois swine!" —Rex Mutt

Dada was perhaps the first politically-inspired art movement, formed during the years of World War I, against war, bourgeois, nationalist and colonialist interests.[5] Some of the more prominent members included Marcel Duchamp,Wikipedia Hugo Ball,Wikipedia Tristan Tzara,Wikipedia George Grosz,Wikipedia John Heartfield,Wikipedia Kurt Schwitters,Wikipedia and Max Ernst.Wikipedia George Grosz was later to be among the artists in the Nazi Degenerate Art Exhibition (see below).


"We need the eggs": Teatre-Museu Dalí, Figueres, Spain

The Surrealist art movement grew directly out of Dadaism in the 1920s, including Dadaists André Breton,Wikipedia Marcel Duchamp, and Tristan Tzara. Surrealists drew inspiration from Marxism, Sigmund Freud, Pacific Island art (e.g., Joan Miró,Wikipedia and André Breton), as well as quantum physics (e.g., Wolfgang Paalen'sWikipedia "Figure Pandynamique") and Relativity (e.g., Salvador Dalí'sWikipedia "The Persistence of Memory").[6][7] Some of the other prominent Surrealists included Max Ernst,Wikipedia Man Ray,Wikipedia and Luis Buñuel.Wikipedia

Degenerate art[edit]

Poster advertising the Nazi art exhibition of "degenerate" art.

It is one of history's many ironies that the concept of "degenerate art" was introduced by a Jew and prominent early Zionist, Max Nordau.Wikipedia In 1892 Nordau published Entartung (English title, Degeneration.)[8].

Nordau based his hypothesis upon the theories about eugenics and forensic phrenology by the Italian criminologist Cesare Lombroso,Wikipedia whose The Criminal Man, published in 1876, attempted to prove that there were "born criminals" whose atavistic personality traits could be detected by scientifically measuring abnormal physical characteristics. Lombroso and Nordau accepted the social Darwinist hypotheses of Ernst Haeckel,Wikipedia who held that 'ontology recapitulates phylogeny' — which is to say that every organism passes through the evolutionary states of its ancestors in the process of being born and maturing. Haeckel's theory raised the prospect that some people get stuck on an earlier stage of development and become 'atavistic' evolutionary throwbacks.[note 4] From this basis, Nordau sought to criticize the modern art of his day as the result of similar processes of biological degeneration. A number of artists and literary figures, according to Nordau, had been so corrupted and enfeebled by modern life that they have lost the self-control needed to produce coherent works.

He attacked AestheticismWikipedia in English literature and described the mysticism of the Symbolist movementWikipedia in French literature as a product of mental pathology. Explaining the painterliness of ImpressionismWikipedia as the sign of a diseased visual cortex, he decried modern degeneracy while praising traditional German culture. The chief effect of Nordau's screed was to compile a pleasant anthology of some of the most interesting literary works from writers such as Gustave Flaubert, Charles Baudelaire, and Stephane Mallarmé; Nordau's ranting commentary about the degeneracy supposedly manifest in the masterpieces he anthologized only adds piquancy to the collection.

Despite the fact that Nordau was Jewish and a key figure in the Zionist movement, his theory of artistic degeneracy would be seized upon by German National Socialists during the Weimar Republic as a rallying point for their anti-Semitic and racist demand for Aryan purity in art.

The Nazi Degenerate Art Exhibition[edit]

Cover of the catalog of the Nazi "Degenerate Art" exhibition (1937). The work depicted is Der Neue MenschWikipedia by Otto Freundlich.Wikipedia

In 1937, the Nazi regime ran an art exhibition of "degenerate art"Wikipedia, featuring works confiscated from the collections of several museums and from prominent Jews. The exhibition was organized by Adolf Ziegler,Wikipedia but the arbiter of what constituted 'degenerate art' was Hitler himself. The exhibition included work by a number of well-known artists, including Marc Chagall,Wikipedia Georg Grosz,Wikipedia Wassily Kandinsky,Wikipedia Ernst Ludwig Kirchner,Wikipedia Paul Klee,Wikipedia Georg Kolbe,Wikipedia Wilhelm Lehmbruck,Wikipedia Franz Marc,Wikipedia and Emil Nolde.Wikipedia These works were displayed accompanied and partially obscured by political slogans such as "Insolent mockery of the Divine under Centrist rule", "Revelation of the Jewish racial soul", "An insult to German womanhood", and "The ideal—cretin and whore". The event began in Munich but later went on tour to Dusseldorf, Berlin, Vienna, Weimar, and Salzburg.

Many of the works displayed here were cynically sold off, to mostly American collectors, after the exhibition, although approximately 5,000 works were destroyed. Joseph Goebbels wrote of them changing hands between U.S. collectors for "ten cents a kilo", although some "foreign exchange ... will go into the pot for war expenses, and after the war will be devoted to the purchase of art."[9] Some 1500 paintings were stolen by Hildebrand Gurlitt,Wikipedia an art dealer; the works were discovered squirreled away in his son's several apartments in 2012.[10]

High modernism[edit]

If a planned social order is better than the accidental, irrational deposit of historical practice, two conclusions follow. Only those who have the scientific knowledge to discern and create this superior social order are fit to rule in the new age. Further, those who through retrograde ignorance refuse to yield to the scientific plan need to be educated to its benefits or else swept aside.
—James C. Scott, Seeing Like a State, (Yale, 1998) p. 94

Clement Greenberg's contrast of the avant-garde versus kitsch suggests a mentality and dynamic that opposes elite tastes against popular tastes.[11] Occasionally, this contempt for the tastes of the masses was noticed by those masses, and drew angry retorts. This elitist conception of modernism has been labeled "high modernism", a label suggesting that this is the most extreme or characteristic form of modernism. Cultural critic Bram DijkstraWikipedia has said:

Much of the post-WWII high modernism in America and the rest of the western world is antihumanist, hostile to notions of community, of any form of humanism. It becomes about the lack of meaning, the need to create our own significance out of nothing. The highest level of significance, that of the elite, becomes the abstraction. So the concept of the evolutionary elite arises again, deliberately excluding those who 'haven't evolved.'[12]

This conflict between a self-proclaimed artistic elite and the masses has played out on a number of fronts.

The contemporary cult of the free market is just as radical an exercise in social engineering as many experiments in economic planning tried in this century. Like other kinds of high modernism, it rests on a confident ignorance of the immensely complex workings of real societies.
—- John Gray, The Best Laid Plans, New York Times, April 19, 1998

The Soviet Union versus the Second Viennese School[edit]

The Second Viennese SchoolWikipedia is a group of twentieth-century composers who sought to discard tonality in their music. After melodic centers insidiously slid back into their compositions despite their best attempts to exclude them (free atonalityWikipedia), they devised the twelve tone rowWikipedia and the concept of musical serialism as algorithms whose purpose was to make sure those tonal centers did not sneak back in. Important composers associated with these movements include Arnold Schonberg,Wikipedia Anton Webern,Wikipedia and Alban Berg.Wikipedia It goes without saying that music composed by these methods seldom sends the audience out of the concert hall humming the tunes.[note 5] Despite this, some products of the period, such as Berg's opera Wozzeck, have entered the standard repertoire.

David Smith's Cubi VI, now at the Israel Museum.

During the years after World War II, serialism and atonality became near ubiquitous in Western concert music, which at this point was no longer underwritten by paying audiences or aristocratic patrons but had become a wing of academia. Greenberg's contempt for the taste of the masses was made explicit by composer Milton Babbitt,Wikipedia who in 1958 published an essay given the title Who Cares If You Listen?[15] in which he dismisses the tastes of his audience and praises the atonal and serialistic styles for their "efficiency".[16] Babbitt himself, however, claimed that the title was changed from the tamer "the Composer as Specialist" to be more provocative, without his permission.

From the 1950s through the 1970s, the academic serialist composers heaped scorn on their colleagues who dared to cling to tonality. Charles WuorinenWikipedia expressed a widely held view when he proclaimed that while "the tonal system, in an atrophied or vestigial form, is still used today in popular and commercial music, and even occasionally in the works of backward-looking serious composers, it is no longer employed by serious composers of the mainstream. It has been replaced or succeeded by the 12-tone system, first initiated by Schoenberg, subsequently developed into a world of chromaticism extending far beyond the domains originally envisioned for its use."[17][18]

In the Soviet Union, fortunately, some of the commissars were still proletarian enough that they would have none of this. Andrei Zhdanov,Wikipedia Central Committee secretary, published a manifesto denouncing "musical formalism"Wikipedia as "bourgeois", "imperialistic", and anti-democratic.Wikipedia These decrees cast a chill over the careers of Dmitri Shostakovich,Wikipedia whose opera The Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District was perceived as the offense that triggered the denunciation.[19] Sergei ProkofievWikipedia and Aram KhachaturianWikipedia were also whispered about as potential targets. The Communist party organized a special congress of composers where they were required to disclaim bourgeois formalism and adhere to socialist standards in music. The anti-formalist campaigns slacked off after Joseph Stalin's death in 1953; the composers were formally rehabilitated in 1958.

However ham-fisted this government intervention in the creative process was, it had the result of making post-war Russian music much more listenable than contemporary productions of Western concert music, though not for lack of ham-fisted intervention in the creative process in the West, which, as previously explained, was not the case. The Russian composers whose work was the target of the anti-formalism campaign went on to compose works of abiding popularity, such as Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony in D Minor.

Of course, there were some composers outside the Soviet Union who resisted the strict taboo on classic tonality represented by strict dodecaphony; Copland wrote several pieces which, while based on tone rows, declined to rely solely upon the prime, inverse, retrograde, and retrograde inverse forms of those rows, and instead incorporated fragmented quotes thereof as a means of retaining more familiar harmonies.[20] He also wrote unambiguously tonal pieces on and off until his death. Likewise, Vaughn Williams more or less stuck to his guns until his death (1958), although he did often defy expectations in other ways. While serialism certainly exerted a strong influence over some media/types of ensemble, the then-ascendant wind ensemble continued to develop a largely non-serial repertoire more or less unmolested though arguably this is probably just because the Second Viennese School proper seems to largely have had nothing to do with the smaller wind instruments, and in no area was serialism wholly dominant.

Starting during the 1960s, other movements arose as well to escape the domineering strictures of Darmstädter serialism: examples include the minimalist style of Phillip Glass, Steve Reich and Terry Riley, the aleatoric and chance experiments of John Cage, and later, the spectral music of Gérard Grisey and Tristan Murail. By the 1980's, even a hardline serialist like Pierre Boulez had wearied of the rigors of hard serialism, and integrated the technique into a more fluid, expressive style.

Was the CIA responsible?[edit]

The revisionist historian Frances Stonor Saunders suggested, in her book The cultural cold war: the CIA and the world of arts and letters[21] that the Central Intelligence Agency secretly funded many of the Abstract Expressionist painters, serialist composers, and other modern artists in the post-war United States. Via the Congress for Cultural Freedom,Wikipedia the CIA encouraged these artists as a rejoinder to the political orthodoxies of Socialist RealismWikipedia and the persecution of avant-garde artists by Communist bureaucrats.

According to Saunders, the idea was to win the hearts and minds of the Western intelligentsia that followed these issues and turn them into intellectual allies in the Cold War and the struggle against Soviet communism. By publicizing the American artists' freedom to create drippy action paintings, atonal music, and other abstract arts free from any moral or political message, they meant to contrast the artistic vigor and freedom of the West versus political interference by Stalinist bureaucrats.

This really was a job that called for double-naught spies. A public State Department exhibition of modernist American art drew political blowback, with President Harry Truman scornfully remarking, "If that's art, then I'm a Hottentot."[22] In this climate, the message that America was a land of cultural vitality and friendly to intellectuals would need to be publicized by clandestine means. The newly formed CIA, staffed with young graduates of elite Ivy League colleges, was better suited for this mission than other agencies of the United States government. Nelson Rockefeller and other members of the Rockefeller family were alleged to have been the conduits of CIA patronage, via their seats on the board of the Museum of Modern ArtWikipedia and other cultural institutions.[22]

Others have dismissed this suggestion as a conspiracy theory. Michael Kimmelman has argued that these allegations are either flatly false or at minimum decontextualized.[23] And to some, like Henry Makow, it really was a conspiracy. The CIA was sponsoring abstract art on behalf of the Illuminati, who used abstract art to corrupt our moral fiber. "Modernism is a solipsism where the bankers' perversity[note 6] becomes the norm. For example, the CIA actively promoted modern abstract art, an art disconnected from human identity and aspirations, an art any child or monkey could produce."[24] Maybe it really was no conspiracy because, more than these allegations being either flatly false or at minimum decontextualized per se and in one of the greatest ironies of history, the Congress for Cultural Freedom ultimately did nothing but establish political counterorthodoxies of a paradoxical Social Democratic Nihilism more than publicize the American artists' freedom of expression per se. And they were even weak ones at that, never really dominating except at elite Ivy League colleges, whence the Director of Central Intelligence had drawn the staff of the newly formed CIA. To add to the irony, “conspiracy theory” is a fitting description of the motivation behind this brand of artistic modernity that even the leaders of the “free” world officially disliked.

The International Style gets in your face[edit]

What sphinx of cement and aluminum bashed open their skulls and ate up their brains and imagination?
Moloch! Solitude! Filth! Ugliness! Ashcans and unobtainable dollars! Children screaming under the stairways! Boys sobbing in armies! Old men weeping in the parks!
Moloch! Moloch! Nightmare of Moloch! Moloch the loveless! Mental Moloch! Moloch the heavy judger of men!
Moloch the incomprehensible prison! Moloch the crossbone soulless jailhouse and Congress of sorrows! Moloch whose buildings are judgment! Moloch the vast stone of war! Moloch the stunned governments!
— Allen Ginsberg, Howl
The right-angled desert canyon of New York's Sixth Avenue. During the postwar twentieth century, architects were seriously into rectangles.

Bad architecture has a problem. If you don't get serialist or atonal music, you don't have to listen to it. Odds are your classical FM station doesn't play much of it anyways. If you find the abstract expressionistWikipedia action paintings of Jackson PollockWikipedia incoherent daubs, nobody is forcing you to look at them. But the bad, sterile architecture that characterized the post-WWII twentieth century was unavoidably in your face.

This style was called the International StyleWikipedia, largely because architects planted the same concrete, steel, and glass boxes everywhere, without regard to the surrounding buildings or traditions established by the availability of local materials. And due to the extreme dominance of the style in the architectural community, soon building materials other than concrete, steel, and glass became too costly or unavailable.[note 7]

Leftist Bauhaus architecture: dormitories of the Bauhaus in Dessau, Germany, 1925. Note the use of rectangles.
Right-wing Fascist architecture: the Casa del Fascio in Como, Italy, 1932 - 1936. Notice the difference? I didn't either.

The International Style, like serialist music, arose in pre-war Germany and was fostered in the BauhausWikipedia by Walter Gropius.Wikipedia As the Nazis began to rise to power in 1930s Germany, many Jewish teachers and students from the Bauhaus fled, many to British Palestine, where they built the White CityWikipedia of Tel Aviv in the Bauhaus style.

A great deal of curious ideology surrounded the International Style at its creation. The most utopian of the founders of the International Style was the French architect Le Corbusier,Wikipedia who named his ideal The Radiant City,Wikipedia vast and austere tracts of whiteness and concrete. The imposition of order on human life was at the centerpiece of Le Corbusier's ideals. Le Corbusier's biggest project during his life was a series of buildings in Chandigarh,Wikipedia India. He haughtily addressed himself to future residents who would have to live and work in his buildings, enjoining them from attempting to individualize the buildings or depart from the austere purity of his vision:

The object of this edict is to enlighten the present and future citizens of Chandigarh about the basic concepts of planning of the city so that they become its guardians and save it from whims of individuals.
—Le Corbusier, The Edict of Chandigarh

Grand claims were made for his vision; he said that his design for the city "puts us in touch with the infinite cosmos and nature. It provides us with places and buildings for all human activities by which the citizens can live a full and harmonious life. Here the radiance of nature and heart are within our reach." Le Corbusier went on to collaborate with the Vichy regime of France during World War II, while also asking Mussolini to put him in charge of something radiant.

The Radiant City brought to earth[edit]

An attempt to enact the Radiant City on an even larger scale was done by Le Corbusier's student Lúcio CostaWikipedia and Oscar NiemeyerWikipedia in the plan of Brazil's new capital, Brasilia,Wikipedia begun in 1960. Brasilia was built to a monumental scale, with vast paved areas beneath a pitiless tropical sun, suitable for parading massed troops and tanks, maybe, but not for human beings to live and work in. As Robert Hughes has said,

Nothing dates faster than people's fantasies about the future. This is what you get when perfectly decent, intelligent, and talented men start thinking in terms of space rather than place; and single rather than multiple meanings. It's what you get when you design for political aspirations rather than real human needs. You get miles of jerry-built platonic nowhere infested with Volkswagens. This, one may fervently hope, is the last experiment of its kind. The utopian buck stops here.
—Robert Hughes, The Shock of the New, ep. 4, "Trouble in Utopia".

As James C. ScottWikipedia has remarked, the intense orderliness and monotony of the rectilinear designs in an International Style radiant city become disorienting and dehumanizing:

The disorienting quality of Brasilia is exacerbated by architectural repetition and uniformity. Here is a case where what seems like rationality and legibility to those working in administration and urban services seems like mystifying disorder for the ordinary residents who must navigate the city. Brasilia has few landmarks. Each commercial quarter or superquadra cluster looks roughly like any other. The sectors of the city are designated by an elaborate set of acronyms and abbreviations that are nearly impossible to master, except from the global logic of the center.
—James C. Scott, Seeing Like a State (Yale, 1998), p. 127
The Plaza of the Three Powers in Brasilia.Wikipedia On the left, the Brazilian Supreme Court; the two towers are the legislative buildings, and on the right are the executive offices. This vast paved area was built in a semi-arid tropical savannah climate. No one is dumb enough to venture far into its shadeless expanse of white concrete.

The arrogance of urban renewal[edit]

The brutality of Brutalism: the Hubert H. Humphrey Building in Washington, DC. Currently occupied by The Ministry of Love Health and Human Services.
Le Corbusier [one of the founders of brutalism] was to architecture what Pol Pot was to social reform. In one sense, he had less excuse for his activities than Pol Pot: for unlike the Cambodian, he possessed great talent, even genius. Unfortunately, he turned his gifts to destructive ends, and it is no coincidence that he willingly served both Stalin and Vichy. Like Pol Pot, he wanted to start from Year Zero: before me, nothing; after me, everything. By their very presence, the raw-concrete-clad rectangular towers that obsessed him canceled out centuries of architecture. Hardly any town or city in Britain (to take just one nation) has not had its composition wrecked by architects and planners inspired by his ideas.
—Theodore Dalrymple[26]
The Pruitt-Igoe tenements in St. Louis, Missouri, before their demolition. They were designed by Minoru Yamasaki,Wikipedia who also designed the World Trade Center in New York.

The International Style, particularly in its later BrutalistWikipedia[note 8] manifestations, is one of the most generally disliked art styles of history. It is routinely described as ugly,[27] inhuman,[28] sterile,[29] and elitist.[30] Non-fans include Charles, Prince of Wales, who remarked "You have to give this much to the Luftwaffe. When it knocked down our buildings, it didn't replace them with anything more offensive than rubble."[31] It is indelibly associated with large corporate clients and government projects. Its most disliked manifestations tended to be the residential buildings built during the heyday of "urban renewal"Wikipedia and slum clearances during the 1960s and 1970s.

As Jane JacobsWikipedia has pointed out in The Death and Life of Great American CitiesWikipedia, "slum" neighborhoods often were in fact working neighborhoods, with residents living above streets whose ground floors were full of small businesses. These environments fostered community, of a sort; though the residents may have been poor, the unplanned nature of the neighborhoods and the mix of residential and commercial use put "eyes on the street". Sidewalks and public areas were easily visible and accessible to some subset of the residents. Shopkeepers and residents could intervene in case of trouble. In a healthy urban poor neighborhood, communities took some of the burdens of keeping order off the shoulders of police and other authorities.

The urban planners, confident that their expertise was superior to that of the poor people who lived there, swept away these tenements and removed their residents into vast International Style high-rises. These projects were designed for privacy with hardly any visible public spaces. They were deliberately and intentionally separated from grocers, small restaurants and taverns, and other small businesses that formed part of the former urban mix. Moving the urban poor into these warrens often brought an epidemic of crime, like the ones that befell the notorious Cabrini–Green HomesWikipedia in Chicago, and the Pruitt–IgoeWikipedia housing development in St. Louis.

That said[edit]

Book cover of From Bauhaus to Our House

Tom Wolfe was generally correct when he wrote in From Bauhaus to Our House that large blank concrete constructions are alienating, and architects need to take into account the people who live and work in the buildings they design. Wolfe's book became a standard text in architecture courses, to discourage architects from repeating the mistakes they were making. It didn't work. With the passage of time, some Brutalist buildings have actually become popular with the people who live or work in them, and many are now regarded as spectacularly photogenic, leading to a revival of interest in the style.[32]

One of the most famous "students" of the Dadaist movement, Andy WarholWikipedia, would actually become one of the greatest critics of the Modern Art movements. Andy Warhol hated both modern art and the wealthy people who supported it. His most famous works were actually insults to the art world, such as a film of the Empire State Building that's slowed down to make it even more unwatchable when the actual building was literally walking distance from his studio(s) and could be viewed and enjoyed much better for free, or a painting of a bunch of soup cans. He would outright insult his wealthy patrons, intentionally miss appointments or make them suffer through various indignities. Much like the rich courtesans who could never admit that the Emperor was completely naked, the wealthy patrons assumed he had an artistic message far greater than "FU" that they simply couldn't comprehend but would never admit such, Warhol became internationally famous.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. Technically, this is true because a child has drawn that several times. But it is involuntary when a child does it because a child has not learned craftsmanship or simple draftsmanship yet, whereas Picasso and Renoir have made a considered creative decision to do it.
  2. Here, for instance, Pierrot paints a picture of history's first royal gay wedding, apparently between two lesbians. They have weird pets. His canvas is held up by naked Hercules. To his right, a flying lady (we think it's a lady, since androgynous figures are common in this sort of art) beats up a Roman soldier while being urged on by a second flying lady with a vuvuzela. Above, the Pope is hangin' with his baby mommas, drinkin' that wine. To the left, Lady Liberty shows off her legs to George Washington, who hugs his wild boar(?) in alarm, above another sadomasochistic scene, this time with cherubs. Everyone is young and attractive, things like wartime and religious authority are glorified, drama is over-the-top; this is characteristic of Baroque painting which the ultra-rich people that sponsor this painting love since there's no questioning anything.
  3. The argument would appear to be based on sneering at 'peasants', scoffing at our imaginary peasant's actually intelligent response to the two paintings as a lesser and imperfect form of appreciation, and assuming that the reader shares Greenberg's disdain for the art of Norman Rockwell. At least the implied irony of the Picasso painting representing the Modernist side of the argument appears not entirely lost on Greenberg, though, as he has correctly identified it as the milder end of the spectrum of Modernism where most of Picasso’s Modernist paintings sit.
  4. Sigmund Freud's theories about psychosexual development also owe much to Haeckel's goal-driven view of evolution.
  5. Arnold Schoenberg's Variations for Orchestra, Op. 31[13] is his first large-scale twelve-tone work. Berg's Violin Concerto[14] is one of the few tuneful twelve-tone works, since the piece openly makes allusions to tonality (contrary to Schoenberg's purpose of devising the system)
  6. Is this an antisemitic dog whistle or are we already seeing things?
  7. Indiana once had an industry of skilled stone cutters and carvers carving Corinthian capitals and other architectural details out of the celebrated Bedford limestone. When the use of classical decorative elements in architecture fell out of fashion, these skilled artisan jobs vanished. Walter S. Arnold, History of the Stonecutter's Union;[25] See the Wikipedia article on Indiana Limestone.
  8. Actually named after Le Corbusier's enthusiasm for béton brut, "bare concrete"; but if the shoe fits....


Abstract expressionism,Wikipedia only this time by a chimpanzee.
  1. 1.0 1.1 Clement Greenberg, Avant-Garde and Kitsch. Partisan Review (1939)
  2. Smog influenced impressionism’s dreamy style (March 25, 2023) Science News.
  3. Paintings by Turner and Monet depict trends in 19th century air pollution by Anna Lea Albright & Peter Huybers (2023) Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 120(6):e2219118120. doi:10.1073/pnas.22191181.
  4. See generally, Tom Wolfe, The Painted Word (Farrar, Strauss, & Giroux, 1975).
  5. Richter, Hans (1965) Dada: Art and Anti-art, Oxford University Press. ISBN 0500200394.
  6. Surrealism, Art and Modern Science: Relativity, Quantum Mechanics, Epistemology by Gavin Parkinson, Yale University Press, 2008, 294 pp. ISBN 9780300098877.
  7. A review of Surrealism, Art and Modern Science by Chiara Ambrosio (2010).
  8. Max Nordau, Degeneration. English translation, 1895.
  9. Frederic Spotts, 2002. Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics. The Overlook Press. pp. 151–68. ISBN 1-58567-507-5.
  10. "Nazi art treasure trove valued at £1BILLION is found in shabby Munich apartment". Daily Mail. Nov. 3, 2013
  11. Deniz Tekiner, Formalist art criticism and the politics of meaning. Social Justice, Jun 22, 2006.
  12. Interview with Bram Dijkstra, conducted by Ron Hogan, for
  15. Milton Babbitt, "Who Cares If You Listen?". (High Fidelity, 1958)
  16. Milton Babbitt, String Quartet No. 2. (1954)
  17. Anthony Tommasini, Midcentury Serialists: The Bullies or the Besieged?. New York Times, July 9, 2000.
  18. Charles Wuorinen, String Quartet No. 1, 1971.
  19. Dmitri Shostakovich, Passacaglia from The Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District (Леди Макбет Мценского уезда), 1934.
  20. Listen, for example, to his Piano Fantasy, which he himself argued could be described as having an "over-all tonal orientation" despite "liberal use of devices associated with that [twelve-tone] technique."
  21. New York: New Press: Distributed by W.W. Norton & Co., 2000. ISBN 1-56584-596-X
  22. 22.0 22.1 Frances Stonor Saunders, Modern art was CIA 'weapon', The Independent, Oct. 22, 1996.
  23. Michael Kimmelman, in Frascina, Francis, ed. (2000). "Revisiting the Revisionists: The Modern, Its Critics, and the Cold War". Pollock and After: The Critical Debate. Psychology Press. pp. 294–306. ISBN 9780415228664.
  24. Henry Makow, How the Illuminati Control Culture, October 6, 2013.
  26. The Architect as Totalitarian: Le Corbusier’s baleful influence by Theodore Dalrymple (Autumn 2009) City Journal.
  27. Philip S. Gutis, It's Ugly, And So Is The Fight To Save It, New York Times, February 7, 1987, accessed 02-17-2008
  28. E.g., C. Thau & K. Vindum, Jacobsen, 2002, at 65, ISBN 978-87-7407-230-0 (referring to reaction to internationalism as "A Horror of the Traceless, Inhuman Industrial Look")
  29. A History of Architecture, New Internationalist issue 202 — December 1989
  30. T. Wolfe, From Bauhaus to Our House, Farrar Straus Giroux (1981), ISBN 978-0-374-15892-7 ISBN 0-374-15892-4
  31. Jonathan Glancey, Life after carbuncles, The Guardian, May 17, 2004.
  32. Why Brutalist Architecture Is So Hard to Love by Roman Mars (99% Invisible) (Aug. 13 2015 9:27 AM) Slate.